Trailing 5 – 0 after two periods of play the New Jersey Titans made a valiant effort by scoring three, third period goals but the comeback came up short as they fell to the visiting Maryland Black Bears 5 – 3 in the first of two games between the two teams.
It was the Titans home opener.
At 5:52 of the opening period, Maryland’s Reid Leibold was called for head contact to give the Titans the man advantage. With time winding down on the penalty, the Black Bears dumped the puck into the New Jersey zone where it picked up by Titans netminder Berk Berkeliev who left it behind his own cage for Tyler Nasca. As Nasca looked to set up, he went to pass the puck up to Matthew Iasenza but Iasenza fell at the blueline and the loose puck was picked up by Daniel Colabufo. The Black Bears forward skated along the far side boards towards the Titans net. As Colabufo cut towards the cage, he went to make a centering pass out front but as Berkeliev went to block the pass with his stick, the puck bounced off Berkeliev’s stick and behind the goalie and into the net to give Maryland a 1 – 0 lead.
With 4:44 remaining in the opening period the Black Bears would double their lead. After Maryland won the draw deep inside the Titans zone, the Black Bears’ Luke Mountain went into the far side corner and tried to go behind the net but was cut off by a Titans defender. Mountain wrapped the puck around the boards and up to veteran NAHL teammate Seth Bergeron at the near side point. Bergeron took a low shot on net that was redirected by Mountain out front and past Berkeliev to make it a 2 – 0 game.
Maryland’s Thomas Jarman received a double roughing call with 2:09 left in the first period to put the Titans back on the power play. With the puck in the Maryland near side corner, Black Bears defenseman Aiden McDowell went to pitchfork the puck out of his zone, but it was blocked off by the Titans Max Bronstine at the point. As Bronstine went to set up he was stripped of the puck by Mountain. As he entered the offensive zone, Mountain was slowed down by Evan Werner at the top of faceoff circle but the puck took a slow roll that was picked up by Jack Hillman who backhanded a shot past Berkeliev to make it a 3 – 0 game. It was Maryland’s second shorthanded goal of the game.
Colabufo scored his second goal of the game at the 7:07 mark of the middle stanza to make it 4 – 0 Maryland, and Leibold netted the Black Bears fifth goal of the game with 3:37 left in the second.
Maryland started the third period on the powerplay when the Titans Connor Pelc was called for crosschecking with 1:11 left in the second.
Twenty-nine seconds into the final period, Joe Schubert started the comeback. Iasenza picked up the loose puck in his own zone along the near side half wall and skated into the neutral zone. As he reached center ice, he passed it to a breaking Schubert on his left and the speedy forward broke in all alone and beat Maryland netminder Michael Morelli high blocker side to put the Titans on the board.
Forty-three seconds later Stephen Willey made it a 5 – 2 game. With time winding down on the Maryland powerplay, Brad Zona looked to set up behind his own net and passed the puck up to Willey at the far side half wall. Willey passed the puck across to Nate Boak who skated through the center ice and into the offensive zone. As Boak gained the line, he passed it to a breaking Willey on his left who was skating along the far side boards. As Willey cut towards the net, he went from his backhand to his forehand and beat Morelli short side to cut the deficit to three.
With time winding down in regulation and the Titans pressuring in the offensive zone. Nasca took a shot on net that was blocked out front and the rebound was picked up by Alex D’Angelo who passed it back to Nasca at the point. Nasca took a shot that was saved by Morelli, but Shubert tucked in the rebound past Morelli to make it a 5 – 3 game but it wasn’t enough as the comeback fell short.
Morelli stopped 34 of 37 shots while Berkeliev stopped 21 of 26. Click here for the box score.
The second game of the two-game series will be played tonight at 7:05 PM at the Middletown Sports Complex.